The Witch Nichang– Chapter 79
How do you know that person?
Know? Know who? These words came into my ears and spun around in my head before I fully grasped what they meant.
What Lian’er said wasn’t that hard to understand. What made me hesitate was why she asked that question. If I wasn’t overthinking, it sounded like… I blinked, trying to sort out the whirlwind of thoughts in my head while stalling for time by asking, “What?” to see her response.
Lian’er let out a humph and said, raising her brows, “You just sang a song praising her, and now you don’t remember?” Her expression turned serious, and the warmth in her smile faded away.
Anyone who knew her would understand that this was a sign of her getting angry. I didn’t dare to ignore it. With no time to sort out the jumble of thoughts in my head, I forced a smile and replied honestly, “I know no one called Alamuhan. I only know the song, and I heard it back then from somewhere else. There’s no way I know her.”
“Really? Back then?” Lian’er rarely doubted me, but this time she just didn’t believe me, or at least she seemed rather skeptical. Her bright eyes narrowed a little, looking at me sideways, and she said, “That song clearly comes from this area. How could you have heard it in the Central Plains? Don’t think I don’t know, and don’t try to bluff me. That won’t do.”
She wasn’t as easily convinced as she had been when she was little. I scratched my face awkwardly and explained with an apologetic smile, “Really, a few years ago, when I was away from Mount Hua, I heard it from… a wandering physician. He stayed in our village for a few days when he was passing through. He usually just took care of his patients, but when he got drunk, he liked to sing some random songs. Maybe he’d been to the Western Regions before. I just happened to remember some songs after listening to him so many times.”
It had been a while since I last lied off the cuff. I had no other choice this time. I couldn’t tell her that I learned it from some TV show, could I? I spoke without turning a hair. She heard it, and it probably made sense to her, so she lightened up quite a bit and even gave a slight nod. I saw that and thought that I had gotten away with it. I was about to sort out the thoughts that I had swept aside earlier when suddenly, I heard her voice again, “Then… how about singing another one for me?”
“Huh?” This time I was truly caught off guard and stood there frozen.
“I’m asking you to sing another one for me,” the girl in front of me repeated, this time with a commanding tone, as if she were one of those old men in the tavern asking for a song. Even her mischievous smile was similar to theirs. “You said you remembered some songs. If so, it shouldn’t be difficult to sing another one, right? Or you’re just trying to bluff me? If that’s the case, I won’t let you get away so easily.”
I was left speechless, choking on my words. Seriously… she wasn’t as easily convinced as she was when she was little…
Standing among the sand dunes, the wind had picked up at some point, carrying with it the distant echoes of drums and revelry. Looking back, the few heaps of fires stood out in the dark. The shadows of people mingled together by the fire, engrossed in mirth and laughter, oblivious to the trouble they had inadvertently caused me.
Because of the interruption of this thought, I drifted off for a moment, and Lian’er caught this brief moment of silence. She seemed to have misunderstood it because her expression immediately changed, and she said angrily, “So? You can’t? So you were actually just playing me for a fool!”
She startled me, and I thought to myself, shit. I quickly turned to look at her and tried to explain, “No, Lian’er. It’s just that… I’m not familiar with those songs. I can’t just sing whenever I want. Earlier, I remembered that song because of the music they were playing. You have to give me some time to remember it, right?”
“Then how come you could sing right away when that little girl asked you to, but you have to think when I ask you? Hmph… ” She didn’t throw a fit but flung her hand, turned her head away, and ignored me.
Since a moment ago, I wasn’t sure what she was thinking and what her actions meant anymore. Is it merely out of curiosity that she asked that question? Or is it because she cares? If that’s the reason, what is it that she cares about? Is it the person praised in the song? But judging by her last sentence, it seems to be directed at the little girl…
Apart from that, what is even more important is where this strange concern comes from? Is it from her competitive nature? Or is it…
I didn’t dare to dream, but there was a glimmer of hope, and it had become a bother. These days, I truly experienced its joy and sorrow. If… if this was what they called “jealousy,” then even if it was an unintentional act on her part, even if it could be interpreted in many different ways, it was enough for me to secretly rejoice in it.
Under the influence of this train of thought, a smile crept up my lips. Meanwhile, beside me, Lian’er was still sulking, her slightly pouty face as adorable as ever in the moonlight. My mood brightened, and I said cheerfully, “Alright, I remember a song. Lian’er, do you really want to hear?” As expected, she gave me a glare, as if I was saying the obvious.
So, I took a deep breath of the night air. Next to my ears were the distant sounds of the musical instruments. With the faint music, I slowly breathed out the air that I had taken in and with it came the melody of a lighthearted and bouncy song.
This time, it was still a Xinjiang folk song, once familiar to most people in another era. My lips sang while my eyes looked intently at the person beside me. Lian’er didn’t look at me, her head turned to the side, sulking, but she was listening. She looked fine during the first line, but as I sang the second line, praising the beauty of women, a hint of displeasure flickered in her eyes, which were looking elsewhere.
Lian’er was proud, but what she didn’t realize was that I was looking into her eyes as I sang that line.
I couldn’t tell her that I had seen far more beauties of women than she could imagine. Among those with all kinds of appearances, some might be able to match up to her, but none of them possessed an air similar to hers. It was the vitality and wildness in her, an invisible radiance. Anyone who had seen her could never take their eyes off again.
But what truly captivated me wasn’t any of those things.
It wasn’t those things; I couldn’t quite explain what was. All I knew was that I could no longer take my eyes off.
It felt like a lot of thoughts were going through my mind at that moment, but it was just a fleeting thought in my mind. My lips continued to sing the song, almost a subconscious act separate from my thoughts.
“If you were to get married, don’t marry someone else, marry me”—With nothing else in my eyes, I didn’t know what expression I was wearing or how my voice sounded when I sang that line, but I saw that she suddenly turned her head around and looked straight at me.
My heart skipped, and my voice choked. I forgot how the song was supposed to go, so I closed my mouth and looked at her.
The distant bustle kept on, but here the air fell into silence. Only the gentle breeze and the bright moon remained, the night sky soft as water.
After a while, Lian’er tilted her head and said, “The lyrics are so weird. Good that you didn’t sing this earlier. People would have laughed if they heard it. You’re wearing women’s clothes tonight, not Hu clothes. Not appropriate.”
I smiled lightheartedly and asked, “If I wore men’s clothes, would you think it’s appropriate?”
She raised her head, pondered for a moment, and finally said, “No, it still wouldn’t be appropriate.”
After that, we didn’t continue the conversation. I steered it in a different direction, engaging in random chatter for a while before convincing her to go back to the shack to rest.
What would happen if I mustered the courage to continue? Sometimes, when I think back, I can’t help but feel a sense of regret for not doing so.
But I was glad that I didn’t, for I would soon understand the true meaning behind her words.
Though the gathering lasted late into the night, the caravan made up of four camels and five people set off at dawn as scheduled.
Before we left, the friendly locals provided us with ample supplies. The experienced and sturdy camels led the way with light loads, while water and provisions were evenly distributed between the two camels in the middle, and the last camel carried our luggage.
Things were meticulously arranged because the journey ahead would be the most treacherous part. Even the most experienced local guide wouldn’t dare to take it lightly.
That was a vast stretch of desert with no end in sight.